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From Bermuda to the Beach

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Chuck, Jack, Clint... and some other people as well Chuck, Jack, Clint... and some other people as well

Jack Nicklaus teaches us what makes an athlete

Athletes are born every day, some small, some large, some tall, some short. My definition of an athlete goes far beyond your stereotypical athlete. A short list of professionals that I consider to be athletes include include Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Nolan Ryan, Larry Bird, and Lance Armstrong. There are plenty more that I could name, and plenty more that deserve to be mentioned, but I met a true athlete the other day, Jack Nicklaus.

The first thing that defines a true athlete is the statistical numbers in the sport of choice. There is no doubt that Jordan, Woods, Ryan, Bird and Armstrong have achieved legendary numbers, and thus earned the monicker “athlete.” Nicklaus has also left no doubt about his status as well. I could babble on with statistics that, while impressive to read, can also be a bit dry. What I believe defines an athlete more than anything,  however, is character.

All great athletes share in common several traits. Competitiveness is probably the one trait that drives all of these great athletes. While Nicklaus was in Sandpoint to christen his new golf course, The Idaho Club, he showed that even at age 68, he is still competitive. He and club president Chuck Reeves put on a golfing clinic, and played 11 of the holes now open on the course. On the outside, the two great golfers joked with each other while trying to make the 11-hole-round seem like fun and games. On the inside, I could see in Nicklaus’ eyes he did not want to lose to his long-time friend Reeves. Every shot he made looked like he was competing at Augusta for another major championship.

On his putts, he lined up in typical Jack Nicklaus form, and a smooth as can be, birdied several holes during the match. His drive to compete showed through the whole day. I can’t tell you how hot it was that day, but I can tell you that it would not have mattered for Nicklaus. He had perspiration dripping from everywhere, and that did not deter him from competing.

Every golfer knows what a “mulligan” is, (where you take a second shot from where you were because you didn’t like the first shot). This is against the rules of the PGA. Nicklaus took several mulligans on this day, but he did not do it because he wanted to improve his shot, he did it for us, the spectators, and he never played his second shot, he always played his first. A true professional.

As we all were walking down the 13th fairway, I looked over to my right, and to my surprise, I was walking next to the greatest golfer ever, The Golden Bear. He looked over to me and asked how I was doing. I thought ‘what a great time to ask him about competitiveness.’ After so many years of competing at the highest level in the world, how hard was it to retire from the PGA and the Senior PGA, and can he find the competitiveness in building and designing golf courses now? He replied, “it is very competitive to build and design courses for the average golfer to enjoy. Out of all the golfers in the world, 99 percent of them are out for a good time, and that is my goal when building any course, to make it fun and at the same time challenging for the average golfer.”

Soon, Nicklaus hit his next ball from the Bermuda (grass) to the beach (sandtrap), and from there, I watched him hit a 3 iron to just in front of the green, chip up, and putt in for par. Every shot he took for the rest of the day was awe-inspiring. This man has competed with the greatest golfers in the world, and has meant so much to the game. He is the greatest ambassador the game has ever had.

This is what makes athletes, not jocks. Athletes give back to the sport, some in small ways, and others in big ways. There are thousands of jocks out there, but there are only a few athletes, role models. That is why some athletes will never achieve legendary status.

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Author info

Clint Nicholson Clint Nicholson Clint Nicholson is the sales manager for Keokee Publishing in Sandpoint. His former experience is with newspapers and automobiles.

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